Massachusetts tops LGBTQ Business Climate Index, Mississippi is last

“Discrimination against LGBT+ people creates serious challenges for talent mobility, retention and development,” the report states.
By Tim Fitzsimons

The “State LGBT+ Business Climate Index,” a report produced by the LGBTQ business group Out Leadership, found that Massachusetts has the best state climate for LGBTQ workers and executives, while Mississippi has the worst.

“Discrimination against LGBT+ people creates serious challenges for talent mobility, retention, and development,” the report states, and the index “seeks to help C-Suite leaders understand and respond to these risks.”

“You don’t win by calling people a bigot, and you don’t win by telling people their religion is wrong,” said Todd Sears, founder of Out Leadership. “You do win by telling them that the manner in which they are discriminating is bad for business.”

The Morning Rundown

Get a head start on the morning's top stories.

“You pick an industry and you think from a talent perspective, ‘If I can’t get the best and brightest for my organization because of some law or some patchwork of laws in our country, that’s bad for my business,’” Sears explained. “That makes it hard for people to want to move to Georgia, or Tennessee.”

The report assigned scores on measures falling in five categories: legal and nondiscrimination protections; youth and family support; political and religious attitudes; health access and safety; and work environment and employment. Each measure is given a score on a scale of one to five: 25 points is the lowest possible score, and 100 points the highest.

Categories assessed, for instance, whether states have laws against employment nondiscrimination, allow people to change their legal documentation, ban conversion therapy or ban discussing LGBTQ relationships in schools — “no-promo homo” laws.

The top five states were Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island, which had scores from 87 to 90. Rounding out the bottom of the ranking were Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Dakota, South Carolina and Mississippi, which came in dead last with just 31 points.

Mississippi scored low on all measures except “food insecurity differential,” which means that LGBTQ people there are about as likely as straight people to be unable to afford enough food. Top-ranking Massachusetts scored lowest on HIV criminalization.

Sears, a former investment banker, said the new state index is an outgrowth of a project launched several years ago called “CEO Business Briefs,” which graded 21 major economies on their LGBTQ friendliness (U.S. scored a 7.5 out of 10, tied with Mexico and behind Australia, Italy and South Africa). In an interview with NBC News, Sears said the point of creating public-data-driven indices like these is to “create a pathway for advocacy for CEOs.”

“I used the advocacy word in a cautionary tone with a little ‘a,’” Sears said. “We don’t look at this as a social justice issue per se.”

“I really first and foremost frame this to leaders as a business issue,” Sears explained. “Businesses will advocate for things that we can directly tie to the bottom line, and inclusion is definitely one of them.”

He pointed to the case of Chick-fil-A, whose CEO in 2012 made comments opposing same-sex marriage. The fast food franchise’s brand favorability rating “dropped 62 percent in two weeks after he made those anti-LGBT comments,” Sears said.

“That speaks to the power of the marketplace, that speaks to the power of the business community, it also speaks to the power of allies,” Sears added. “I would say a factor of six to eight of that are allies, and allies are making their buying behaviors align to LGBT inclusion, so it’s not just helping a small minority — there’s a bigger impact.”

FOLLOW NBC OUT ON TWITTER, FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM